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Paulanne Simmons

"Busted Jesus Comix" Is Funny and Poignant

"Busted Jesus Comix"
Directed by Gary Shrader
Presented by Blue Coyote Theater Group
Access Theater
380 Broadway, north of White St.
Thurs. - Sat. at 8 p.m. with an added performance on Aug 3 at 8 p.m.
Opened July 13, closes Aug. 7
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons July 30, 2005

In 1994, Mike Diana, a Tallahassee teenager, wrote a comic book that was ruled obscene by a Florida court and sentenced to three years probation and a $3,000 fine. From this incident David Johnston has created a serio-comic play for Blue Coyote Theater Group that despite obvious swipes at the religious right, homophobics and priggish community leaders, is surprisingly effective on a personal level.

"Busted Jesus Comix," at the Access Theater until Aug. 7, is directed by Gary Shrader, who manages to tell a harrowing tale with both humor and sympathy. All of the action takes place in Dazzle Cups, a Starbucks look-alike lovingly created by master carpenter Kyle Ancowitz.

Marco (Vince Gatton), a callow 19-year-old is applying for a job at Dazzle Cups. This might not be a momentous occasion, except that Marco has a dark past that is slowly revealed through his interview with the Dazzle Cups manager (the excellent R. Jane Casserly), a pigtailed, lesbian with brains, balls and heart.

Marco's story is told in a series of flashbacks that includes two teenagers (Paul Caiola and Joseph C. Yeargain) acting out the obscene scenes in the comic books (the boys have sex, rape a baby and stab each other in harmless, good fun), conversations with Marco's defense attorney (Tracey Gilbert), proclamations by the ladies of the Community Council (Caiola and Yeargain, both in drag), sessions with his psychiatrist (John Koprowski) and (most hilariously thanks to Brian Fuqua, Bruce Barton and David Lapkin) Up From the Closet group meetings (patterned after Alcoholics Anonymous) where the prevalent mottos are "Straight Is Great" and "Mr. Right is Jesus."

But Busted Jesus Comix happily goes beyond social commentary by imagining a biography for Marco that makes his comic book creation something more than the product of an immature teenage mind. Thus the drama unfolds a bit like a psychological mystery and ends as the triumph of redemptive love.

It's possible that Johnston merely intended to write a commentary on the culture wars that seem to be ripping this country apart. This is not an unworthy ambition. But how much nicer it is that in the hands of skilled actors and a sensitive director Busted Jesus Comix is also a moving declaration of the power of understanding, acceptance and compassion.

Review by Paulanne Simmons.

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